I once again had the privilege of presenting at the Christianity and Literature Conference at the end of the school year. From May 11 to 13, 2017, Christian scholars of literature met on Point Loma’s beautiful oceanfront campus to discuss many different liminal spaces–both the literal boundaries that divide (whether cultural, disciplinary, political, or other divisions) and the more metaphysical boundaries between the spiritual and the secular. The oceanfront setting provided a literal metaphor for these boundaries: there are places on which we stand firmly and confidently, yet the vastness and mystery of the unknown ocean continues to move us forward as scholars and teachers. As always, I come away from the conference inspired for both my classroom teaching and affirmed in my own scholarship. Using the theme of the conference, I would like to highlight the following: exploring pedagogical borders, enhancing metaphors to challenge boundaries, and expanding and overcoming disciplinary barriers.
EXPLORING PEDAGOGICAL BORDERS: RELIGIOUS VS. CONSUMERIST READING, WRITING FOR AN AUDIENCE
Several sessions addressed better ways to address student learning. Some highlights:
- Dr. Lanta Davis from Indiana Wesleyan University addressed two different types of reading. She contrasted religious reading with consumerist reading. Religious reading has love and reverence for its objective (lectio divina would be an example); consumerist reading emphasizes consuming a text, producing a result (a paper or other product), and then finally exchanging this result for a grade. Texts are used for a specific objective rather than metabolized in order to transform lives. Dr. Davis suggested several different assignments designed to encourage more religious reading; for example having students develop textual commentaries and anthologies, rather than arguments.
- Vanguard’s own Jennifer Russum and Azusa Pacific’s Thomas Allbaugh discussed ways to address writing for an audience. Allbaugh mentioned that students have a persistent fantasy of an “audience-free” zone, especially in more reflective or narrative assignments. Dr. Russum discussed an assignment that immerses students in an audience of their own choosing to create greater awareness of the needs of an audience.
ENHANCING METAPHORS TO CHALLENGE BOUNDARIES: IMMIGRANT WRITERS AND WORLD LITERATURES
Different cultures have different metaphors to explore the world. This may seem an obvious statement, but it is one readers may persistently ignore on first, or even second readings. Some highlights:
- Dr. Laura Veltman from Cal Baptist looked at two novels, one Latino (Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya) and one Native American (Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko), for their “tri-cultural” aspects. The protagonists of both novels are both native-born Americans and are of ethnicities that can be marginalized in contemporary culture. Both novels offer metaphors that challenge the dichotomies encouraged by scientific discourse—in other words, the separation between the subject and object, between the “knower” and that which is “known.” This dichotomy is associated with “whiteness” in both novels. Different metaphors introduced by both writers to reconnect humanity with nature, rather than assuming the primacy of human knowledge over nature.
- li-young lee’s poem “The Cleaving” allows the exploration of first-generation stereotypes of immigrants that the second generation often holds. The presentation of this poem by Nancy Huayan Carranza introduced the character of “The Butcher,” a metaphor for the migrant collective, or the American collective, or even for the artist. “Cleaving” itself took on many meanings as well in the poem, including both the biblical cleaving and the more visceral cleaving that the butcher’s occupation demands. I was grateful to be introduced to this poem for the first time.
- My own presentation addressed the different cultural interpretations of imagery within Shusaku Endo’s Silence. Familiar with both Western and Japanese culture, Endo uses both to show how God might speak in ways either culture does not expect. Endo’s last novel Deep River was the subject of the other paper in my session. Prof. Shunichi Takayanagi suggested that this last novel represents a mature view of faith by Endo and I look forward to reading it soon.
EXPANDING DISCIPLINARY BORDERS: THE VISUAL ARTS, THEOLOGY, AND THE MEDICAL HUMANITIES
Many of the sessions included a cross-disciplinary component. The keynote speaker was Catherine Kapikian, author of Art in the Service of the Sacred. Unlike many keynote speakers, Catherine attended every part of the conference and her comments from the field of the visual arts were inspiring. Other highlights:
- One session encouraged scholars to be precise in using terms like “sacramental” and “incarnational” when referring to art and literature. In our post-secular society, it is tempting to see certain moments as divinely inhabited. Matthew Smith pointed out that it is precisely because these moments are NOT divinely inhabited that they appear to be so. The more appropriate term is the disincarnate.
- Another exciting session looked at the field of medical humanities and how that might be used to expand the understanding of both literature and the sciences.
It has been my sincerest pleasure to share some of the highlights of this invigorating conference!